Breaking down the epm business benefit

philosophyI was asked recently to help an organization prioritize its enterprise project management deployment. As we’ve often suggested here, the organization had done some homework. They had assembled a multi-departmental team to determine the aspects of epm that they considered important and they had worked over a series of months to articulate their process and to evaluate potential software vendors. They had determined that replacing an in-house timesheet system with a new timesheet system that would improve the time and billing process was their highest priority and had already purchased several hundred licenses of this time and expense system.

Sounds like there was nothing for me to do, doesn’t it? The organization had called me in because the scope of the deployment had recently undergone a significant increase and the head of the team was quite concerned that their entire plan was now at risk. The original scope had included several aspects of epm functionality including, of course, the timesheet but also a complete Enterprise Project Management system for resource capacity planning, schedule tracking and more. The selection of the timesheet system included, in part, the ability to link to Microsoft Project, which had already been targeted as the preferred epm system. The original plan was to deploy the timesheet first over a 4 month schedule then work on the epm deployment in the months following. Somewhere along the way, two things happened to dramatically alter the schedule. First, the timesheet vendor informed the client that a perceived deficiency in the abilities of the timesheet could be solved with the functionality of the epm system and second, almost simultaneously, management had renewed its requests for resource capacity planning information from Project.

The result was to move the implementation of the entire epm system forward and to implement the timesheet system and the epm system simultaneously. I was not particularly surprised to find that the schedule had not been lengthened at all as often happens during ‘scope creep’. The challenge I was asked to solve was to determine if the schedule was still viable and to look over the new scope of work to determine if this was the most effective course.

I mention all of this because the exercise we did together with this client is one that is done all too rarely in deployments of epm systems. We looked together at the final vision of the system from a business needs perspective. I asked the deployment team to identify business decisions they intended to make from the system rather than to identify a list of functions that they thought they would need. By focusing on the intended business uses of the system we were quickly able to list the expected business benefits.

The resulting list was highly relevant to their request. Over a couple of hours we were able to list the majority of the business benefits they were hoping for and the actual business decisions they expected to be better able to make once the system was deployed. Interestingly, virtually 100% of those benefits were focused around the functionality of the timesheet change rather than other epm oriented functionality.

This left us with the problematic functionality that had started the whole change in scope in the first place. ‘Who had reported the problem?’ I asked. The culprit was the chief accountant. An hour later we were meeting with him. Yes, he could confirm that this function was something he desired. However, when I asked how much effort was required to manually (ok, via Excel) manage this function now, the answer was ‘about 5 minutes or so per month’! Needless to say, with such a small improvement in efficiency as our expected benefit, the cost and effort of the whole epm deployment for this one function couldn’t be justified.

The lesson for all of us is to focus on the Return on Investment for each aspect of your epm deployment. What will be the intended business benefit and the intended business use of the system? Make sure you know how going through the exercise of deploying a whole enterprise project management environment will pay you back dividends.

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